Wave Race 64 burst onto the scene back in 1996 shortly after the launch of the Nintendo 64 and made a big splash with critics due to its stunning graphics, lifelike wave physics, and tight control. Always a company that knows a good thing when it sees it, Nintendo decided that a sequel was in order for the launch of the GameCube and placed the franchise into the hands of one of its North American teams, NST. The result is a game that borrows heavily from the original but provides an eye-watering racing experience that can't be found in any other game.
Like the original, Wave Race: Blue Storm is not for the impatient or those with short attention spans. Just getting around the track in one piece can be a challenge at first. But once you master the control, its intricacies and sensitivity provide a rewarding experience. Navigating each track is a simple process of steering and giving the Jet Ski gas, but if you want to be competitive, you won't be able to simply rely on the skills you built five years ago. The biggest change is the addition of the turbo button. Once enough buoys have been successfully negotiated, you are awarded with a turbo boost that can be used at any time. NST has also included the option to tuck and gain speed, but doing so will decrease the handling abilities of your ski slightly. The number of tricks at your disposal has also been greatly improved. In addition to the barrel rolls, flips, and dives found in the original, you can now perform more than a dozen new tricks common to motocross, such as the can-can, superman, and tabletop. Performing tricks is no longer a hindrance to winning a race because doing so will increase your top speed. The GameCube controller's analog shoulder buttons are put to perfect use as they allow you to feather sharp turns without losing any speed. It appears as if the physics of the original game have returned--the watercraft react to every rip curl and wave undulation with startling realism. If you catch waves properly, you can actually surf them and gain speed. Veterans of the original Wave Race will be able to jump right in and compete in Blue Storm, but newcomers to the franchise will have to endure a learning curve before coming to grips with its challenging yet elegant controls.
There are a variety of gameplay modes in Wave Race: Blue Storm to keep players drenched well into the holidays. The championship mode is the heart and soul of the game. Here, you must square off against seven computer-controlled riders in each race--nearly double the number of rivals in the original--on a quest to accumulate the most points. As you complete each series, a new series of races is unlocked, complete with a new course. Strategy factors heavily into the championship mode because you are allowed to pick the order of the courses based upon a weather forecast. If you're having trouble with a particular track, just race it on a sunny day to give yourself the best chance for success. Like most racing games, Blue Storm also includes a time attack mode in which you can attempt to improve your course times without other riders interfering. There's even a remote-controlled helicopter that acts as a ghost to help push you to improve your times. The surprisingly addictive stunt mode asks you to navigate a series of rings and checkpoints while pulling off as many tricks as possible in between. The multiplayer mode is quite extensive and now lets up to four human players race at once. You may race on any of the tracks that have been unlocked in the championship mode and choose from one of six different weather settings once they've been unlocked as well. You can also participate in the stunt mode with up to four players at once, which can incite quite a bit of trash talking and outrageous collisions. While not nearly as involving as games like Gran Turismo 3, Wave Race: Blue Storm has plenty of meat on its bones. The championship mode can be finished in a few days of hard playing, but the racing is addictive enough to warrant replaying the tracks, and the multiplayer mode guarantees long-term appeal.
From a graphical perspective, Wave Race: Blue Storm is a game of compromises but impressive nevertheless. Unsurprisingly, the most striking aspect of the graphics is the water. Unlike many other water-based racing games, the waves in Wave Race: Blue Storm are completely unscripted and come in a variety of sizes and shapes. This makes each time around the track both look and play differently. When the rain starts pelting down, the waves become covered with an animated texture map that shows each drop hitting the water and dissipating. The use of impressive environment mapping--which reflects and warps the surroundings on the surface of the water--also helps to intensify the realism. When you're racing in a torrential downpour, your ski will kick up water on the camera and obscure visibility, and the water clarity is adjusted appropriately so that you can no longer see the bottom of the lake, river, or ocean you're scooting across. Several of the eight tracks included in Wave Race: Blue Storm mimic the artistic design found in tracks in the original Wave Race, but only Southern Island is a turn-for-turn replication.
The tracks themselves have as much going on below the surface of the water as they do above. The underwater environments are teeming with animated sea life, such as dolphins, killer whales, sea turtles, brilliant coral reefs, and much more. Massive objects, such as icebergs and freight containers, will unexpectedly drop into the water, causing waves to emanate outward. There are several shortcuts in each track that carry a risk, but they will cut precious seconds off your lap time. Low-resolution textures are used to cover the majority of offtrack objects, and sprites that resemble cardboard stand-ups are used for smaller offtrack objects, such as people and snowmobiles. While the skis and the way the water reacts to them look impressive, the riders could have used a few extra polygons. They're leaps and bounds above the riders found in the original, but they feature some blocky features that are a bit unexpected for a game running on the GameCube. The sacrifice in polygons was probably made to keep the frame rates up, and it works. Blue Storm never slows down, even in four-player split-screen or with all eight racers onscreen at once. Wave Race: Blue Storm is a great-looking game, but those who look for flaws will find them. The water looks extraordinarily real, the frame rates are steady, and all the game's small graphical bits come together nicely to manifest in a game that will often astonish all but the most jaded. But an overall grainy appearance dampens what would otherwise be a groundbreaking visual experience.
Instead of using the quirky Japanese synth pop that graced the original, NST has decided to make Blue Storm a bit more contemporary. The game features a nice variety of music, including guitar rock, dub-influenced downbeat breakbeat tracks, and electronica. Each of the eight riders has his or her own crew chief who acts as the commentator during races. The statements tend to repeat quite often, but thankfully, the announcing can be turned off in the options menu. The ambient sound effects are excellent and really help draw you into the game. You can hear the foghorns blow on towering cargo ships, explosions as fireworks go off, and ducks quacking as a flock takes flight. The sounds of the Jet Skis are standard fare, though each craft has a different sound depending upon engine size. While not the strongest aspect of Wave Race: Blue Storm, the sound doesn't pull you out of the game and is quite good after a few adjustments.
While not perfect, Wave Race: Blue Storm is the most accurate video game representation of water-based racing ever to be released. With six completely new tracks, more racers per race, an extensive four-player mode, and an even better physics system, Wave Race: Blue Storm is an improvement upon the original in every respect. If you're expecting an entirely new experience, you're bound to be disappointed. But fans of the original or those who are open to new ideas in racing games should buy with confidence.